Tuesday, December 23, 2008


There, I got that off my chest (unlike the three pound of mucus that still sitting there). Colds on vacation are only slightly better than a combined root canal/colonoscopy. On the slightly plus side, we're visiting my mother for the holidays so I'm being well spoiled.

Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, December 5, 2008

What happened to Thou Shalt Not Steal?

The state of Washington did a really brave and good thing with the holiday decorations in the Capitol building. In addition to the "Holiday" tree and Nativity scene, a sign was put up promoting Atheism. Here's the story from a local station.

Sadly, somebody who was so threatened by a different viewpoint decided that it was ok to steal the sign and throw it into a ditch. Here's that part of the story from CNN.

Any body who knows me personally has had to endure my rantings on the evils of organized religion and against the fundamentalist christian groups specifically. I can go on for hours about this or that hypocrisy and yet, I try to keep an open mind and understand why these people might feel threatened. They live in a world that's filled will monsters, demons and angels. A world where the unknown is bad and to even question it is to invite punishment upon themselves. They also proclaim to live by a set of laws and that's what bothers me so much when incidents like this happen.

In the United States, there is an ongoing controversy regarding the display of the basic Laws of the christian faith known as the 10 commandments on or in a government building. The Founding Fathers of the United States decided that a separation of church and state was in the best interest of the Republic. They felt, in my opinion, that the rights of one persons religious beliefs can not be held to a higher or lower standard than any other person's belief. Two hundred years ago, these men, who were rational intellectuals who were also religious. They believed that our country would be best served by the rule of law and so, when it became time to set down into history their most heartfelt and important laws, they looked to history. They looked to the Code of Hammurabi and to the English Common Law and to the Magna Carta as well as the 10 Commandments among so many others.

At the heart of all those legal concepts is the idea that an individual's property is theirs and has certain protections under the law. No where is this concept written so well or so directly as the Commandment; Thou Shalt Not Steal. There it is, a simple direct statement with no doubt as to it's meaning. It's easy, don't steal!

So, back to the stolen sign in Olympia. I'm sure the person who stole it would describe themselves as a "God Fearing American" and do so with pride. I wonder how a person who takes such pride can rationalize not only breaking the law of their beloved country but also that most basic commandment that, if you believe in it, was handed down directly from the god that they claim to fear?

I'll take rationality any day thank you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A change of direction

We, as a species spend a lot of time looking out but sometimes it's nice to look down. I've seen this a couple of times via emails and such but here's a nice Flash movie of the Earth from the High Perspective.

Conjuction Junction

"Did you see the lights last night?"
"Hey, I saw the strangest thing last night"

Questions like that greeted me this morning when I found my way to the pile of papers I call a desk. Being the closest thing in my office to an astronomer I tend to get a lot of questions about the sky and was looking forward to the one I knew were coming regarding the Moon/Venus/Jupiter conjunction. I was even (ok, almost) ready for the, "Those had to be UFOs cause you can't see a planet from the earth!" one. Yes, sadly, that is a quote from an associate who also doesn't understand how an eclipse works because, and again I quote, "The moon can't get between the sun and the earth because the sun and moon are both up in the sky and spin around the earth".

I answered all the questions and while doing so, it struck me that more people came to me asking things then ever before. People had actually stopped and looked up. People had actually done astronomy and began the scientific process by asking a simple question to themselves, "What is that?" What a wonderful thing happened to these folks and they don't even realize it.

I wonder how many of them will continue to take a moment out of their day and just look up? More, I hope, than did before.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Day another Picture of an Exoplantet

Here it is folks! Beta Pictoris and it's Jupiter size planet in living, false colour! Impressive isn't it?

Ok, a little explanation is probably in order. Beta Pictoris is a star about 65 light years away. It's a little younger and a little hotter than our sun. Those two bright flame like objects coming out are actually a disc or ring made up of dust and debris from countless collisions of objects. This disc was imaged back in 1984 and is probably the best studied planetary disc there is. During it's long period of observation, it was discovered to be slightly warped or bent and a large number of comets were falling toward the star. It was postulated that a planet was the cause of the gravity disturbances that were observed. Scientists estimated the planet to be about the size of Jupiter and orbiting the star at a little over 8 AU (AU or Astronomical Unit is simply the average distance from the Earth to the Sun or roughly 93 million miles). This puts Beta Pictoris' planet at about the same orbit as Saturn is in our Solar System.

So, now we have a little context for the picture. The image was taken in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum at a wavelength of 3.6 microns (about 5 times the wavelength that can be seen by the human eye). The star itself has been blocked out by various means so that objects close by could be seen. The planet, if it is a planet but a little more on that in a moment, can be seen as the small light blue dot at the 11 o'clock position on the image. This isn't another Earth, it's a very hot mass of material in the size range of Jupiter and probably 2 to 4 times bigger and it's very hot.

Now, I said above that there is a possibility that what the team of scientists imaged is not a planet after all. It could be something between us and Beta Pictoris. However, there is some strong evidence that points to it being a planet in orbit around the star. We see that the planetary disc has been disturbed in a similar fashion to what a large mass would do and we see the object in the same plane as the disc. We'll need to wait a while in order to make more images of the object and see if it moves in an orbit before we know for sure but right now, this looks good to be the fourth extra-solar planet imaged.

For a LOT more information, here's the ESO's press release

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How cool is this?!

Here's a video created by astronaut Don Petiit aboard the International Space Station. It's a series of still photos of the Aurora taken from the vantage point of the High Frontier. Notice how thin our envelope of atmosphere is......humbling a little.

Here's the vid

Taken for granted.

We live in amazing times and most of us don't even notice. Take for example yesterday's space walk by the crew of STS-126. Here we have an astronaut working on a piece of machinery 250 or so miles above the Earth and traveling at several thousand miles per hours in relation to the ground. Something happened on the spacewalk that I find jaw dropping, the astronaut drops a tool bag. Here's a video from her camera and you can see it happening

Ok, you say, what's the big deal? She just let go of the bag, I've done that a thousand times! You're right, you and I have both dropped countless items in the course of our work days. Ask yourself this though, did it take a team of NASA scientists to help you pick it up again? Didn't think so.

We take things like microwave dinners (I know I'm dating myself but I still call em T.V. dinners), vitamin supplements, battery and fuel cell technology for granted. These things and countless others are the direct result of solving problems of humans and their machines operating in space. How many things on Star Trek are common, everyday things today...your cell phone/PDA/MP3 player perhaps? 80 years ago, things like electric cars and space travel were the stuff in funny papers and Flash Gordon serials. Now, they are so everyday that people are actually bored with them.

It was only 70 years ago on Halloween Eve 1938 that Orson Wells and the Mercury Theatre broadcast one of the most famous radio shows in history, H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Invaders from Mars landed and started to conquer the world starting in New Jersey (Tony Soprano would be proud). Now, a mere 70 years later...think about that, a span of a single person's lifetime, we are landing our own three legged machines on the planet Mars. We didn't come to invade like those fictional martians but to look and, most amazing of all, to taste! We tasted Mars! How cool is that?

Take a moment the next time you make a cell call or unwrap that Hot Pocket and dump it in the micro and reflect upon the incredible and amazing future that we live in. A future where an astronaut can drop a tool bag and nobody thinks anything about it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

and yet people still cling to this farce

Seems a Catholic priest in Greensville South Carolina is a little upset over the results of the election here in the U.S. So much so that he has "requested" that parishioners who voted for Barak Obama "not present themselves for communion until they go to confession first". Yep, you read that right, he's pissed off because Obama won and he's threatening to withhold crackers for those who haven't seen the light and gathered the moral arms for a new Confederacy. Here's the link if you want to read the entire story including the priest's letter to his parishioners.

Here's my stand on Politics from the Pulpit; As long as churches and other religious organizations involve themselves the political process by acting as PACs (Political Action Committees) then they should not be allowed to maintain the tax exempt status that they enjoy. If they are not paying taxes then they are leaching off the services provided to them by the very government that they are trying to influence.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A bit of perspective on the exo planet pictures.

I know that most people, if they are fans of any of the incarnations of Star Trek over the years, know what a light year is. It's a measure of distance (not time) and is simply the distance traveled by light in one year. It's roughly 5,878,625,373,183.61 miles. Big number eh? now you know why we use light years to measure distances in space. Now, in Star Trek, they use light years the way we would use the terms miles or kilometers, as simple distances to be covered in a short amount of time. This is great for the Enterprise as it has it's warp engines that do away with Professor Einstein and his math. On a side note, when asked how fast warp speed was, one of the Star Trek writers responded , "as fast as the plot needs to be". For us who don't have access to Mr. Scott's engines, we're stuck with Einstein. Except, that's not as bad as it may sound. I said that a light year is a measure of distance not time but when we are taking about looking through a telescope either with our eyes or with the sophisticated sensor equipment available to science, we are truly looking back in time.

Fomalhaut is about 25 light years from Earth. That means that the light (measured in photons) left Fomalhaut 25 years ago in 1983. Ask yourself, what were you doing in 1983? Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize; M*A*S*H broadcast it's final episode; Star Wars, Return of the Jedi was the top grossing film of the year: Ronald Reagan was President of the United States...And the light from that small speck left the planet and started a journey across space. 25 years later, it fell onto the camera lens of a small cylinder orbiting around a small blue planet.

Keep those distances in mind the next time you look up at the stars. The light from some of the most spectacular objects out there might be thousands or even hundred of thousands of years old and has ended it's journey by shining in your eyes.

A picture worth a hundred light years (give or take)

1st optical image of an Extra- Solar Planet.

This is absolutely amazing. The Hubble Space Telescope has, once again, made history. This is an image of the star Fomalhaut and it's only about 25 light years away from us. 25 light years is just next door when your taking about galactic and intergalactic distances. Phil Plait over at the Bad Astronomy site has much more information about this as well as another photo showing not one, not two but three planets in orbit around another star! Think of that for a moment, three planets....a whole star system! Granted, these are all huge gas giants (think Jupiter sized) but when you think of how small they are when compared to their parent star....WOW!

Here's a cool movie that the Hubble folks have put together Movie

A couple of things about the photo.

That ring that you see is the remnants of the planetary systems creation. It's being shepherded, for lack of a better word, by the planet. This ring means that there may (and probably are) more planets orbiting Fomalhaut.

WTG Hubble!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Star Trek XI's Enterprise NCC-1701

Ok, first rant and I'll get this out of the way right off the bat.....I DON'T LIKE THE NEW ENTERPRISE!

I realize that the people behind the new movie made changes to the look, hell they cast Syler as Mr. Spock! They've changed to look of the bridge and they've changed the look of the uniforms. I can really go along with those changes as well as seeing new faces portraying familiar characters.

I just have problems with this Enterprise. For some reason, it looks like somebody sliced off the Engineering hull with a band saw and stuck the two remaining pieces together with model glue. I can even go along with those weird nacelles and support pylons. It all comes down to that damned secondary hull.

I'm hoping that it's just the angle of the photo and that on screen and in motion, the Big E will be as lovely as ever.

1st Post! Wow.....

Well, here it is. I've been tossing the idea of a blog around in my head for a while now. The big hold up was simple, what the HELL do I write about? Most people who know me know that I don't have a problem ranting about things ranging from Politics to Social Sciences to games I'm playing on the computer. Mostly, I rant about what I perceive as the blatant acts of random stupidity that I see my fellow naked ape descendants perform on an daily basis.

So guess what?! This blog is going to be full of rants, ravings. sighs of disbelief, sarcasm, science, rationality, skepticality and a general massacre of the spelling conventions of the English language.

Good luck to us all